Downtown meetings can be expensive propositions, but deal-minded planners have plenty of strategies for keeping costs down.
Here are 15 good ones, compiled from interviews with meeting planners, convention bureau officials, destination management professionals, and other industry experts.
Use universities and colleges. Cities such as Boston are teeming with universities. Contact the schools' music departments or theater departments to inquire about hiring a student or instructor to perform at parties or functions.
Find local discounts. Not-for-profit organizations such as museums, art institutes, or historical societies often offer reduced rates for groups. And in Washington, D.C., the museums on the Mall are open to the public, free of charge. Entertainment venues such as aquariums, planetariums, city tours, sporting events, and theaters may have generous bulk-rate packages.
Let attendees entertain themselves. It's not hard to figure out why San Francisco is one of the most popular meeting destinations — there is so much to do. Every city has a lot happening, so let attendees have an evening or two.
Catering to your needs. The sidewalks may roll up early in some smaller cities, but shops, services, restaurants, and attractions are often willing to be flexible for groups.
Find out who's in town. Look for entertainers who are scheduled to perform in the city the week you arrive and see if they are available for your function. You can save money on travel costs, hotel, and meals.
Go straight to the source. Book acts and entertainers through local organizations, churches, or CVBs, and avoid the booking fees of an agency.
All under one roof. Some downtown convention centers encompass more than one venue. The Oncenter Complex in Syracuse, N.Y., for example, combines a convention center, conference center, theater, and arena, so along with lots of meeting space, it's also home to the local symphony, opera, and a minor league hockey team. Meeting groups that book the complex can get discounts on games or concerts.
Food and Beverage
Piggyback onto another event. If another group is meeting at the same time and place, find out what those attendees are eating. You may be able to negotiate an F&B discount by asking the chef to make more of what he is already preparing.
Let's do lunch. For a group function, consider a major presentation in the middle of the day with a plated lunch, which is usually about half the price per person of a lunch buffet. Dinner is usually twice the cost of lunch.
Walk to dinner or entertainment. For your dining and entertainment pleasure, a mix of clubs and restaurants is usually within walking distance of many downtown venues.
Other Ways to Cut Costs
Go off-season or on weekends. A winter meeting in Boston or a summer event in Miami is a good way to find deals on hotels and meeting space.
Use local speakers. They may be less expensive than big-name presenters, and you will save on travel costs.
Use fewer buses. Instead of booking multiple minicoaches, reserve fewer large buses to transport attendees to events around town.
Be on the lookout for free shuttles. In cities where the airport is not too far from the downtown area, many hotels offer complimentary bus service.
Ask the CVB. Convention & Visitors Bureaus are great resources for everything from marketing a meeting to local vendor recommendations. “We know the city, and we are happy to share our knowledge and resources to assist the client in hosting a successful and cost-effective meeting,” says Jane Rice, manager, convention services, Atlanta CVB.